Thursday, September 14, 2017

Backpacking Rattlesnake Creek Trail-Ashdown Gorge

 Our goal: a ten-mile backpacking trip, over two days. Mostly downhill, with about a 3,000-foot elevation loss. The second part of the trip would be in the stream, with no trail. This was Rattlesnake Creek Trail to Ashdown Gorge, located in the Dixie National Forest near Cedar Breaks National Monument. Part of the trail was in Ashdown Gorge Wilderness Area.

This was the longest backpacking trip Desert Boy and Desert Girl had ever attempted. You can see how they felt in the photo above.

Fortunately we had bribes (a big bag of M&Ms). And I was so glad my brother Ed was along, as the kids love to be with him. Plus he could carry a big pack! We took a group photo before we started.

And then we were off, following the north boundary of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The kids had to carry a sleeping bag, water bottle, garbage bag, flashlight, and some snacks.

The fence stopped about 20 minutes into the hike, and we headed south to an unofficial overlook.

A few minutes further down the trail was another great view into the Cedar Breaks amphitheater.

 Can we say shallow roots? Yikes!

Those two views were the only ones we had into the amphitheater. Then we continued down the trail, which was mostly in the forest, but occasionally opened up to meadows.

We took a casual pace, stopping to photograph interesting fungi.

And a lichen growing on moss with moss growing on lichen.

And a really cool flower.

We also climbed over and under lots of trees. I had the kids count how many crossed the trail. 65! Whoa, definitely some trail maintenance needed.

We also had to take a break when Desert Boy caught a horned lizard.

And then Desert Girl had to take a turn holding it.

A couple hours into the hike we reached Stud Flat, a huge open meadow with great views of the Twisted Forest ridgeline to the south.

From there, we descended steeply to Rattlesnake Creek. It was joined by another creek. We had heard there were waterfalls, so while the kids rested, Ed and I went in search of them. We found this one:

and this one:

They weren't what we were thinking, so we continued another mile and a half down the trail, with Rattlesnake Creek on our left.

Along the way, the kids noticed rose hips, and after a short discussion, they decided to collect them to make rose hip tea (it's rather bland). Desert Girl also mentioned that if she fell and was bleeding, she would find yarrow leaves and use them to help with her wound. Later we passed the plant, and she identified it correctly. Proud Mama moment!

The kids moved fast. They knew that our goal was the trail junction, and that was where we would set up camp.

And then finally we were there. The camping area was okay, quite frankly we were expecting something a little nicer. The next morning I woke up early and walked up the High Mountain Trail, and just five minutes away I found a nicer campsite. Now we know! And by the way, although the trail sign here says the highway is only 4 miles away, it's 5 miles according to the Dye Clan and 5.7 according to the Adventure map we were following.

The kids enjoyed making a fire. The abundant ponderosa pine needles made it easy to start.

The next morning it was chilly, but we were up and ready to go on the second part of the adventure: through the creek.

We decided against starting straight away down Rattlesnake Creek because we didn't want to walk in the water so early. So our plan was to follow the trail around to Ashdown Creek and then follow that creek down.

Trying to make waterfalls look big. Next time we may bring little people.

The kids hiked fast through the meadow. Then we went around the corner and Ed and I got a little worried. We saw tall canyon walls along Ashdown Creek. What if we got to one of those waterfalls that blocked the way? Would we have to retrace miles?

We pushed on, though, the kids delighted to be in the creek.

We found a super cool camping spot with overhanging canyon walls.

And this huge horseshoe bend under the cliff wall was also cool.

In about an hour after leaving our camping spot, we came to a creek joining us from the right (north). It had to be Rattlesnake Creek. We could breathe a sigh of relief. I sure did. We hadn't gotten trapped by waterfalls. It turns out that if we went up Rattlesnake Creek from this point, we would eventually get to one of the waterfalls, with another one up Lake Creek. They couldn't have been very far from our campsite! Lesson learned--don't totally trust your map. Our Adventure map was not detailed enough. The Dye Clan has a good annotated topo map on their website.

As we proceeded downstream, we took periodic rest and snack breaks. We generally tried to do a five minute break every half hour.

The kids were super hikers. They had various conversations that kept them so occupied that they were in good moods most of the time.

They said the water wasn't very cold--to them it was much warmer than the swimming hole we've been frequenting all summer.

My brother and I were impressed with the tall canyon walls. I felt a bit like I was in the Zion Narrows--but without the crowds. In fact, we only saw three other people the whole time we were on this route, and that was only in the last mile.

At one point, the kids picked up dry mud flakes and pretended they were waiters.

The clouds were starting to build, so we were glad we had gotten an early start. This wouldn't be a good place to be in a flash flood.

 We kept a sharp eye for Flanigan's Arch, which is actually difficult to see from the river as it's up quite high. A sign is along the river, but we didn't see it until after we saw the arch.

Each twist and turn presented beautiful new views.

I knew the end was coming soon, but didn't really want it to end!

It was nice having a geologist brother with to recognize these mud ripples! Desert Girl agreed to pose for scale.

By this time it was warm and we had packed away coats and were looking for excuses to cool off more.

After about four hours hiking each day, we reached our second vehicle, parked at the avalanche area (up a bit from MM7) on Utah Highway 14. Success! This is a fantastic hike, and I highly recommend it. The trail reports say it can be done in six hours, but with kids and backpacking gear, it was about eight for us. And it was a real treat to be camping in the wilderness with no one else around.
Happy trails!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Exploring the Cedar Breaks-Brian Head Area

 Our Labor Day weekend plans changed at the last minute, and we headed up to Cedar Breaks to meet my brother Ed from Flagstaff. After setting up camp (in an afternoon storm), it was time to head up to Brian Head Peak. It's the easiest peak to summit, since you can drive up it! From the top we had nice views of the town of Brian Head and some of the 70,000-acre wildfire that burned to the northeast from it.

The kids can't resist making funny faces for photos. Fortunately they don't do it all the time.

A few of us biked down the road (the marmots and pika were hiding--be sure to look for them if you go up the peak). After a quick stop at Georg's for a bike fix (great customer service!), we went on to the Twisted Forest. We discovered this last year, and it is such a cool hike that I couldn't wait to go back. The highlight is old bristlecone trees growing on sandstone.

The hike is rather short, but mostly uphill.

Before too long we reached the ridge, with great views. Ed and I walked along it, checking out more trees.

This tree is sure hanging on the edge!

We didn't stay too long, as the storm clouds were building. But it was so neat to see this place again. I'd love to come back and spend more time, just relaxing with the trees and absorbing their energy. Bristlecones make me feel like I can do that!

After a bike ride, my husband headed home and the rest of us went back to Cedar Breaks and ate dinner. Then it was time for a short walk.

The moon was up when we went to bed, but I woke up early and decided to wander. The wildflowers were still great, so I was glad to get some of the northern Milky Way with them.

I wandered more until the sun came up. Next we did a little more exploring before starting a big adventure--a two-day, 10-mile backpacking trip. That's coming up next!

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